Pierre Moran and the Formation of Elkhart

by Frank Fisher


Map showing Native American land cessions from Wikimedia Commons.

Perhaps the most notable Native American once celebrated in Elkhart County and now largely forgotten is Pierre Moran.  Why should he be remembered? What connection did he have with the city of Elkhart and Elkhart County? Although Indians didn’t keep written records, we know enough to piece together his life.

Constant Moran, a French trader lived with a Kickapoo band at the junction of Big Pine Creek and the Wabash River southwest of present day Lafayette, Indiana. Known as Little Ducks village it was one of several Kickapoo towns scattered along the west side of the Wabash River. Constant Moran married a Kickapoo woman and in 1776 she gave birth to a son they named Pierre. He grew up here, and became a war leader in the Kickapoo tribe. It was their involvement in the attempted unification of many tribes by Tecumseh and his brother The Prophet that led to their participation in the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. Soundly defeated by Harrison’s troops, the Kickapoo’s returned to their village where the tribal elders blamed Pierre Moran for the loss of a large number of their young men. Moran was banished from the tribe. Traveling northeast he joined a Potawatomi band where he undoubtedly had relatives. This village was near the confluence of Flint Creek and the Wabash River. Once again Moran became influential in his new home. 

Moving his family and his band further north they settled in what is now Elkhart County about where present day Hubbard Hill is located at the southwest corner of State Road 19 and County Road 24.

In 1787 the Northwest Ordinance was enacted by the U. S. Congress.  This proved to be a far reaching document confirming the Federal Government’s desire to expand the nation westward beyond the Appalachian Mountains, but also specifying how, when, and where it was to be done. This virtually opened the door to white encroachment on Native American lands in the Midwest. 


The first survey of Elkhart County Townships conducted by the Surveyor's Office beginning in 1831.

Through the years we find Moran’s name on several treaties that were negotiated between the whites and the Indians. In 1818 he signed the Treaty of St. Mary’s Ohio in which he was awarded a tract of land on Flint Creek. He also left his mark on the Treaty of Chicago in 1821. Because of his ability to speak both French and the Indian languages he was a valuable asset to the U. S. negotiators.

In the Treaty of Chicago in 1821, between the Ottawa’s, Potawatomi’s, and the U. S. Government, Pierre Moran was awarded a tract of land in Elkhart County, described as “one section of land, and to his children two sections of land, at the mouth of the Elkheart River”. Moran got section 5, his children, sections 4 and 6. Sections 4 and 6 were sold in 1832 to Steven and Rufus Downing.

In the archives of the Elkhart County Historical Museum, in Deed Index Book I, we find the following entry. To Havilah Beardsley, From Pierre Moran (Indian Chief), Section 5, April 21, 1831, $1500.00.  This sale was not valid until the document was signed by the President of the United States.  Moran had tried to sell the land previously but the deal fell through due to nonpayment by the purchaser.

Moran remained in the Elkhart vicinity only a short time then he moved back south east to what is now Benton County. He found a pleasant grove of trees near the junction of two Indian trails and made himself a home here. A large walnut tree had been blown partway over into another tree creating a ramp of sorts which allowed Moran to build a platform in the tree. It’s believed he died in a fall from this tree in 1840. The area where he lived is still called Pairish Grove today and he is supposedly buried there.

Sources and Additional Resources


Primary

Treaty with the Potawatomi, St. Mary’s, Ohio, Oct 2, 1818

Treaty with the Ottawa and Potawatomi, Chicago 1821

Secondary

Taproots of Elkhart History, by Emil V. Anderson

Potawatomi’s, Keepers of the Fire, by David Edmunds

Elkhart County History, Chapman

Indiana magazine of History, June 1927, John W Wicker

Atlas of Great lakes Indian History, edited by H. H. Tanner, 1987

Indian Names in Indiana, pg 56, by Joseph McPherson

Abstracts, Young Collection, ECHM archives

Northwest Ordinance of 1787

John Tipton Papers, Vol  I, pg 371, Compiled by Glen A. Blackburn